Tag Archives: rebecca watson

An Open Letter to Ron Lindsay

So Women In Secularism 2 is happening this weekend (live blogging from Miri, Kate and Jason) and unfortunately I was not able to attend. But I’ve been following online, and in an odd twist, CFI President Ron Lindsay decided to open a conference about the under-representation of women in the Atheist Movement by talking about how we need to pay more attention to what men have to say. Rebecca Watson and PZ Meyers have both posted about why this was a problem. So far Lindsay’s main defense seems to be “but that wasn’t what most of my talk was about“.

Dear Ron,

As a general rule, I like to believe that people have the best of intentions, so I do think that you sincerely don’t understand what the problem here was. I’d like to try and explain the reaction to this (admittedly short) part of your speech in terms of a different sort of privilege that I think you will have an easier time understanding.

I suspect that you would agree with me that atheists lack privilege in our Christian-soaked culture. So let’s imagine the following scenario: An atheist conference (pick your favorite), specifically created to bring together a lot of similar-minded people and discuss the usual issues invites as its opening speaker a Christian. Now I’m not talking about a hate-spewing WBC preacher or anything like that; I’m thinking someone with whom we might share goals like separation of church and state, marriage equality, or a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. There are many atheists and Christians alike whose views on these issues line up, just as there are many men who take the feminist position on issues.

So it may seem odd to open an atheist conference with a Christian speaker, but it’s not completely out there.

But then let’s say that speaker devotes a section of their talk to the persecution that atheists face, and begins that section with “Now let me tell you something about persecution…” followed by the usual tone-deaf ravings about how the government is targeting believers. You know the drill. And I’m sure you know why what that speaker is saying is bullshit. I’m also sure you can imagine the kind of uproar you would get from attendees, who paid a not-inconsiderable amount of money to be there. All of this, despite the best intentions of the speaker.

This is essentially what you have done. You have gone before a conference dedicated to giving a voice to women in the movement and told them that they need to spend more time listening to what men have to say. As though it’s possible to live in our society without knowing what men generally have to say. As though it’s possible to live in our society without knowing what Christians generally think.

Now, the meme you’ve described does actually happen. I won’t deny that there are men who are told to “shut up and listen”. But this is good. It asks them to be silent long enough to hear what minority voices (more than one!) have to say. And after that, they’re welcome to bring up any concerns that they have but they need to shut up long enough to let someone bring their voice to the table.

Unless, of course, they just keep bringing up the same point over and over again, never actually responding to what the minority has to say. In which case, they just need to shut up for good.

You were asked for examples of people being told to shut up and listen and the ones that you gave were of what I’ve described above: people being told to shut up long enough for a minority voice to have a chance to speak. I’d like to provide my own examples of people being told to shut up:

  • Ophelia Benson’s Page o’ Nonstop Monitoring and Harassment in which she records all the bullying she receives to try and silence her voice
  • Skepchick’s Page o’ Hate where Rebecca Watson posts a tiny sample of the hate she gets, trying to silence her for speaking up (ironically) about harassment
  • Jen McCreight was bullied out of the atheist movement and had to quit blogging about atheist topics because of the level of harassment that she (and her family) received. It got so bad that people were trying to trigger her depression and telling her to commit suicide.
  • Natalie Reed also abandoned the atheist movement after Thunderf00t started threatening her when he got kicked off of FTB for being a bigot.

These stories are not unique, and when you trivialize them by comparing them (indirectly) to men who have been asked to allow a more diverse range of voices in the atheist movement; you are doing a disservice to the victims of actual harassment and bullying.

I hope you will come to realize that.

Sincerely,

A guy with privilege.

PS: When people who paid to attend your event are unhappy; you should probably listen to them and address their problem instead of telling them why they’re wrong. They are, after all, your paying customers. Try to make them happy.

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Please Keep Making Calendars (if you want to)

Argh. This is tough. I love Rebecca Watson, but I think this is literally the first time I’ve disagreed with her about something. And strongly.

Rebecca Watson has posted a blog in response to (I assume, due to the timing of it) Secular Woman, Inc.‘s creation of a nude atheist calendar project. In it, she lists several reasons why she wishes atheist and skeptic organizations would stop making nude calendars. Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist also posted a blog in support of Watson. I’d really just like to take a moment to address the first two of Watson’s criticisms:

1. Regardless of the intent behind the calendars, regardless of how much fun we had making them, regardless of how empowering we found them, regardless of the racial and age diversity we showcased, and regardless of the fact that they were run by a woman and benefited women, pin-up calendars added to an existing environment in which women were seen first as sexual objects and maybe if they’re lucky they’d later be seen as human beings with thoughts and desires of their own. Back in 2005, I thought skeptics weren’t affected by the patriarchy and that misogyny was something left to the religious. In a community like that, a pin-up calendar of women would be absolutely fine. I learned that a community like that does not exist and it was naive of me to assume otherwise.

2. Adding a calendar of men did not balance out the calendar of women. In a perfect non-patriarchal world, it would, but what I realized was that the women in the calendars were not being seen in the same way as the men in the calendars. The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

First off, if the intent behind the calendars is good, and the people making them both had fun and were empowered by it, then that’s all you should need right there. If you want to pose nude (or semi-nude) for a calendar (or anything else) go right ahead. The whole point of feminism is that nobody but you gets to tell you what to do with your body. I realize that Rebecca isn’t saying otherwise, but if you want to make a nude calendar then you should. Don’t let anybody else tell you not to.

The problem here isn’t that women are being sexualized. If you’re posing for racy photographs with the intent to distribute them, then I would hope that you realize that being sexualized is inevitable, if not the whole point.

The problem is when assholes fail to have the ability to see someone in a sexual context for a few seconds (or, I guess, a month) and then treat them normally in any other context. The problem is when these people objectify women, rather than recognize that sexuality is only one small part of an entire person.

So what’s the solution? I don’t claim to be smart enough to know for sure, but I suspect that the following things will help:

  1. More nude calendars with more diversity: Everyone get naked! Let’s try to create a culture where people can be sexual and still be taken seriously. We need more men to strip for the cause because, as Rebecca points out, nobody takes nudity as a mark against men. Maybe, just maybe, we can normalize nudity to the point where it’s not something that people can hold against women. The Atheists Breaking Through calendar is doing awesome in this regard as it has a mix of men and women, including a trans woman. That’s great! Let’s do more.
  2. Don’t give in to trolls: If we let the solution to “dumbasses don’t know how to deal with nudity” be “get rid of all the nudity” then you’ve basically let win kind of people who think that a woman who has appeared naked in a photo once can no longer be taken seriously. If you want to express yourself by appearing nude, then stopping yourself because of negative reactions you get is letting people silence you. And you know what? If that’s a barrier to you expressing yourself that you don’t want to put in the time and energy to traverse, that’s fine too. But what bothers me about Rebecca’s suggestion to get rid of the calendars is that she’s adding to that barrier rather than fighting against it. “If you think that ignoring assholes and bullies makes them go away, you are wrong”.
  3. Stop being an asshole: If you’re the kind of person who can’t take a woman seriously if you’ve seen her boobs, then kindly fuck off. I honestly wonder how you can even have relationships with women. I imagine most of you would actually love to see some boobs, so how do you deal with that in real life? Do all your relationships (romantic, sexual, or otherwise) teeter precariously over the brink of seeing the other person naked? If you have sex with someone do you magically become unable to have a serious conversation with them? How do you operate in life? I honestly don’t get it. But regardless, don’t be that guy. Just… don’t.

Posing nude can be fun. It can be sexy. It can even be empowering.

Although it sucks that there are people in this life who will try and take that away from you, if you decide that your desire to do it outweighs the drawbacks, then great. Go for it.

I did some nude modelling for a friend’s photography art project in university. It was awesome. I am so proud that I did it, because I do have body image issues and being able to be open like that was a huge deal for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat. JT Eberhard, who will be appearing in the Atheists Breaking Through calendar, said it beautifully:

As a recovering anorexic, taking those pictures was extremely difficult, but it was worth it.  This is what flooded into my mind when Bridget asked me to be in this calendar.  It will be scary, but ultimately I think it will be good for me.

I think the human body is beautiful.  After those pictures, there were times when I thought mine was as well.  After years of coming to loathe reflective surfaces but being unable to resist looking at them, that feeling was like breathing oxygen for the first time.  I suspect that participating in this project will allow me to recapture that sensation.

So yeah. If you want to pose naked, then do it. If you want to publish the photos, then do that too. Hell, if you like looking at the photos of other people naked, there’s nothing wrong with that either. You just need to be able to go back to treating the people in those photos normally after you’ve looked at them. Don’t objectify them just because they have tits or a dick.

Can We Have a New Atheist Movement Now Please?

Fuck. I’ve been putting off writing this, because I don’t really have the words. There are so many things right now, and through the last year, that just piss me the fuck off about the Atheist Movement. I’m an atheist, and I want very much to be a part of *an* atheist movement, but the one we have right now is failing on so many levels.

Sure we have publicity, and record numbers of people showing up to conferences. Huge spikes in secular student groups. Blogs. Billboards. Television exposure.

But for all our successes, we have a lot of fucking problems. Natalie Reed sums it up brilliantly (no, seriously, read the whole thing):

And, of course, the endless controversy over the most basic principles of feminism and women’s rights. Elevatorgate, now ongoing for over a year. The treatment of the 15 year old girl on r/reddit. The “controversy” of Staks Rosch’s all-male atheist-of-the-year list, and his ridiculous claims that it would be “tokenism” to have ANY women on a five person list, with insinuations that it would only start “making sense” for just ONE of half the world’s population to show up if it were a list twenty people long. The endless discussions of the merits of using the word “cunt” to harass and intimidate women. DJ Grothe’s insistent apologism for any dudes being “attacked” by the “radical feminist” contingent of Atheism who had some basic level of sense that all this fucked up shit was kind of fucked up. The sexual harassment issue. The blatant misogynistic appraisals of female atheist’s worth by their appearance. Mallorie Nasrallah. Paula Kirby. FTBullies. The Amazing Atheist’s meltdown while trying to deliberately trigger a rape survivor. Justin Trottier. The increasing incursion and overlap between the internet Atheist Movement and the Men’s Rights Movement. I got so sick of all that, having to same the sexist garbage rehashed endlessly, with so much vitriol and fervor.

(links added by me)

And to be perfectly honest, as important as I think the Atheist Movement is, as crucial as it is to promote reason and skepticism and secularism; I’m fucking tired of having the movement I believe so much in associate me with people like that. I’m fucking tired of it, and honestly, I don’t even have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I can’t imagine what Natalie, Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Ophelia BensonRebecca WatsonElyse Anders, the rest of the Skepchick crew and probably dozens of other women (some of whom I probably haven’t even heard about yet) have to deal with on a day to fucking day basis. Not to mention women outside of the movement, like Anita Sarkeesian who are victims of the same Internet culture in which the Atheist Movement thrives. And yet we’ll turn to defend women like Jessica Ahlquist so long as the people threatening to rape her come from outside of the movement; and then quickly turn around and pat ourselves on the back for how much better we are towards the womenz.

I don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people anymore but I also don’t want to give up on fighting for something that I think is this important now that I’ve finally found a place (albeit a mostly digital one) where I actually feel like I belong.

So here’s what I propose: we need a new atheist movement. Not the “New Atheist” movement as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, as described by Christians: it’s been well pointed out that the current Atheist Movement is nothing new at all: philosophical objections to Pascal’s Wager, the Watchmaker analogy and the ontological argument are almost as ancient as the arguments themselves. What we need is an actually new atheist movement. One that actually cares about the people. While I enjoy many privileges in life (being white, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc) I’m tired of a movement that clothes itself in these privileges and then claims that they’re better for it.

I want a new atheist movement that actually cares about people. An atheist movement that will look at the way religion poisons our views on gender, race, or sexuality and actively tries to combat that. I want an atheist movement that will reach out help other people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, education, wealth, visibility, or even religion. Yes, religion, we don’t have to agree with them, we don’t even have to be nice about it, but we can still be the goddamn compassionate ones who will reach across and help anyone in need, regardless of whether they can refute Pascal’s Wager or not.

I want a new atheist movement that isn’t going to call women on the internet cunts for having an opinion.

I want a new atheist movement that is open and inviting and accessible to everyone who wants to be there.

And I want a new atheist movement where we can tell the people to fuck off and leave if they have a problem with creating a safe space for the people who want to be there. Because fuck those guys.